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Interesting Etymologies 25: Nadsat

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

"Hello again Word Lovers!" It is time to return to Russian today, but this will be an investigation of a peculiar type of Russian, an invented language, the language invented Anthony Burgess in his novel A Clockwork Orange.

Discover the band names within the novel and film by checking out a previous episode of Interesting Etymologies: Band names here

The name comes from the Russian suffix equivalent of "-teen" as in "thirteen" (-надцать, -nad·tsat). This indicates the idea that the language is used by younger people.

From the opening paragraph of the book it is clear that the language is English with unusual vocabulary:

"There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither. Well, what they sold there was milk plus something else."

In the novel the youth of the world are divided into different groups

Droog : The droogs are the friends of Alex, друг "close friend"

Korova : Russian for "Cow", which is a rather apt name for a Milk Bar

Rassodocks : making up our rassodocks - making up our minds

Chelloveck/Veck : Man or human, Veck could be considered as guy.

Horrorshow : means good, from the Russian хороший for good which is literally pronounce Horrorshow.

A tolchock to the gulliver is a blow to the head. голова is head in Russian, pronounced golova

Krovvy : кровь (Krove) Blood in Russian

Devotchka : девушки (Devushki) is girls or "birds" in Russian

Oddy knocky : Alone or on your own, from Одинокий (Odinocky) lonely in Russian

Anthony Burgess was a linguist and was not first or the last person to invent or create a language. Listen to the episode or check out the podcast to hear Charly take a whistle stop tour through invented languages, from Esperanto to Vulcan!

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Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

Until now.

This is the story of how ‘Nobody’ Skip DeLirio, with the cards finally all dealt in his favour, still managed to fuck it up. History will only take you so far. The rest is make-believe.

Order your copy here


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